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St John Paul II's Pilgrimage to Egypt

24 - 26 February in the Great Jubilee Year 2000

Pope St John Paul II was a pilgrim to Egypt, journeying to Mount Sinai in the Great Jubilee Year 2000 on his 90th apostolic voyage.

Pope Saint John Paul II's speech at the Arrival Ceremony
International Airport of Cairo, 24 February 2000 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Mr President, Your Holiness Pope Shenouda, Your Beatitude Patriarch Stephanos, Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, Dear People of Egypt,

As-salámu 'aláikum – Peace be with you!

1. For many years I have been looking forward to celebrating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ by going on pilgrimage to pray at the places specially linked to God’s interventions in history. My Jubilee pilgrimage brings me today to Egypt. Thank you, Mr President, for making it possible for me to come here and to go to where God revealed his name to Moses and gave his Law as a sign of his great mercy and kindness towards his creatures. I greatly appreciate your kind words of welcome.

This is the land of a 5,000 year old civilization known throughout the world for its monuments and for its knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. This is the land where different cultures met and mingled, making Egypt famous for its wisdom and learning.

2. In Christian times, the City of Alexandria where the Church was established by the Evangelist Mark, disciple of Peter and Paul, nurtured renowned ecclesiastical writers like Clement and Origen, and great Fathers of the Church such as Athanasius and Cyril. The fame of Saint Catherine of Alexandria lives on in Christian devotion and in the name of many churches in all parts of the world. Egypt, with Saints Anthony and Pachomius, was the birthplace of monasticism, which has played an essential part in preserving the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Church.

The advent of Islam brought splendours of art and learning which have had a determining influence on the Arab world and on Africa. The people of Egypt have for centuries pursued the ideal of national unity. Differences of religion were never barriers, but a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community. I well remember the words of Pope Shenouda III: “Egypt is not the native land in which we live, but the native land which lives in us”.

3. The unity and harmony of the nation are a precious value which all citizens should cherish, and which political and religious leaders must continually promote in justice and respect for the rights of all. Mr President, your own commitment to peace at home and throughout the Middle East is well known. You have been instrumental in advancing the peace process in the region. All reasonable men and women appreciate the efforts made so far, and hope that goodwill and justice will prevail, so that all the peoples of this unique area of the world will see their rights respected and their legitimate aspirations fulfilled.

My visit to Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai will be a moment of intense prayer for peace and for interreligious harmony. To do harm, to promote violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible contradiction and a great offence against God. But past and present history give us many examples of such a misuse of religion. We must all work to strengthen the growing commitment to interreligious dialogue, a great sign of hope for the peoples of the world.

As-salámu 'aláikum – Peace be with you!

This is my greeting to you all. This is the prayer I offer up for Egypt and all her people.

May the Most High God bless your land with harmony, peace and prosperity."

Pope John Paul II's Homily at Holy Mass in Cairo
Indoor Stadium of Cairo, 25 February 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Mt 2, 15).

Today’s Gospel recalls the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt where they came to seek refuge. “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you: for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him'” (Mt 2, 13). In this way, Christ too, “who became man so that man could receive the divinity” (St Athanasius of Alexandria, Contra Arianos, 2, 59), wished to retrace the journey which was that of the divine call, the route which his people had taken so that all the members of the people could become sons and daughters in the Son. Joseph “rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt have I called my son'” (Mt 2, 14-15). Providence led Jesus along the paths upon which in former times the Israelites had marched to go towards the Promised Land, under the sign of the Paschal lamb, celebrating the Passover. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was also called out of Egypt by the Father to fulfil in Jerusalem the Passover of the new and irrevocable covenant, the definitive Passover, which gives salvation to the world.

2. “Out of Egypt have I called my son” . Thus speaks the Lord, who brought his people out of the condition of slavery (cf Ex 20, 2) to establish a covenant with them at Mount Sinai. The Passover feast would always be the remembrance of that liberation. It commemorates this event, which remains present in the memory of the people of God. When the Israelites departed for their long march, under the leadership of Moses, they did not think that their wanderings in the desert would last for 40 years until they reached the Promised Land. Moses himself, who had led his people out of Egypt and had guided them throughout this time, did not enter the Promised Land. Before he died, he only contemplated it from the height of Mount Nebo, before handing on responsibility for the people to his successor Joshua.

3. While Christians are celebrating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus, we must make this pilgrimage to the places which saw the beginning and unfolding of the history of salvation, the history of the irrevocable love between God and men, the Lord’s presence in time and in human lives. We have come to Egypt, on the path upon which God guided his people, with Moses as their leader, to bring them into the Promised Land. We are setting out, guided by the words of the book of Exodus: leaving our condition of slavery, we are going towards Mount Sinai, where God sealed his covenant with the house of Jacob, through Moses, in whose hands he placed the tables of the Decalogue. How beautiful is this covenant! It shows that God does not stop speaking to man in order to give him life in abundance. It places us in the presence of God and is the expression of his profound love for his people. It invites man to turn to God, to allow himself to be touched by God’s love and to fulfil the desire for happiness which he bears within himself. If we accept wholeheartedly the tables of the Ten Commandments, we will live fully by the law which God has placed in our hearts and we will have a share in the salvation which the Covenant made on Mount Sinai between God and his people revealed, and which the Son of God through his work of redemption offers to us.

4. In this land of Egypt, which I have the joy of visiting for the first time, the message of the new Covenant has been transmitted from generation to generation through the venerable Coptic Church, heir to the apostolic preaching and activity of the evangelist Saint Mark who, according to tradition, suffered martyrdom in Alexandria. On this day, let us give fervent thanks to God for the rich history of the Church and for the generous apostolate of its faithful, who down the centuries have been ardent witnesses to the Lord’s love, sometimes even to the point of shedding their blood.

With affection I thank His Beatitude Stephanos II Ghattas, Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, for his words of welcome; they bear witness to your community’s living faith and fidelity to the Church. I cordially greet the patriarchs and bishops who are taking part in this liturgy, as well as the priests, religious and all the faithful who have come to accompany me in this stage of my Jubilee pilgrimage. I also extend respectful greetings to the Authorities and all those who have wished to be present for this celebration.

Your presence here around the Successor of Peter is a sign of the unity of the Church of which Christ is the head. May the fraternity among all the Lord’s followers, so clearly manifested here, encourage you to continue your efforts to build communities united in love, acting as a leaven of concord and reconciliation! In this way, you will find strength and comfort, especially in moments of difficulty or doubt, to bear ever more ardent witness to Christ in the land of your ancestors. With the Apostle Paul, I give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I pray for you without ceasing so that you will grow in faith, be steadfast in hope and spread everywhere the love of Christ (cf Col 1, 3-5).

5. In this Jubilee year, as we recall that Christ is “the Head of the Body, the Church” (Col 1, 18), we must seek ever more ardently to make resolute progress on the path of the unity which he willed for his disciples, in a spirit of trust and fraternity. In this way our common witness will give glory to God and be more credible in the eyes of men. I pray to our Heavenly Father that serene and fraternal relations, in charity and good will, will be developed with the Orthodox Coptic Church, which I greet here with respect. Such a climate of dialogue and reconciliation will help to find solutions to the problems which still impede full communion. It will also promote respect for the sensitivities of each community, as well as for their specific way of expressing their faith in Christ and celebrating the Sacraments, which the Churches must reciprocally recognize as administered in the name of the same Lord. In celebrating the Passover of the Lord during this pilgrimage, may we re-live the Pentecost experience, when all the disciples, gathered together with the Mother of God, received the Holy Spirit who reconciles us with the Lord and is the principle of unity and strength for mission, making of us one body, the image of the world to come!

6. From the beginning, spiritual and intellectual life developed in a remarkable way in the Church in Egypt. Here we may recall the illustrious founders of Christian monasticism: Anthony, Pachomius and Macarius, and so many other patriarchs, confessors, thinkers and doctors who are the glory of the universal Church. Even today the monasteries are living centres of prayer, study and meditation, in fidelity to the ancient cenobitic and anchoritic traditions of the Coptic Church, reminding us that faithful and prolonged contact with the Lord is the leaven which transforms individuals and society as a whole. Thus life with God causes the light to shine on our human faces and illumines the world with a new brightness, the living flame of love.

By accepting today this spiritual and apostolic enthusiasm handed down to them by their fathers in faith, may the young be attentive to the call of the Lord who invites them to follow him, and may they respond with generosity by committing themselves to him in the priesthood or the active or contemplative consecrated life! By the witness of their lives as men and women totally consecrated to God and their brothers and sisters, based on an intense spiritual experience, may consecrated men and women manifest the Lord’s unlimited love for the world!

7. In her commitment to the Egyptian people in the areas of education, health and charitable works, the Church seeks to express this disinterested love which excludes no one. The Church’s active presence in the intellectual and moral formation of young people is a long tradition of the Coptic Patriarchate and the Latin Vicariate. Catholic educational institutions wish to contribute to the promotion of the human person, especially of women and the family, by educating young people in essential human, spiritual and moral values, with respect for the conscience of everyone; they also aim at fostering friendly relations with Muslims so that the members of each community may make sincere efforts to understand one another and promote together social justice, moral values, peace, respect and freedom.

All citizens have a duty to play an active part, in a spirit of solidarity, in the building of society, in consolidating peace between communities and in managing the common good in an honest way. In order to do this common work which should bring together all the members of the same nation, it is right that everyone, Christians and Muslims, while respecting different religious views, should place their skills at the service of the nation, at every level of society.

8. Following Moses in his journey of faith, during the Jubilee pilgrimage we are making in these days, we are invited to continue our way to the mountain of the Lord, to put aside our different forms of slavery in order to walk on the Lord’s path. “And God, seeing our good decisions and observing that we ascribe to him what we achieve ... will give us in return what is proper to him, the spiritual, divine and heavenly gifts” (St Macarius, Spiritual Homilies, 26, 20). For each one of us, Horeb, the “mountain of faith”, is to become “the place of encounter and of the mutual pact, in a sense therefore 'the mountain of love'” (Letter Concerning Pilgrimage to the Places Linked to the History of Salvation, 6). This is where the people committed themselves to live in full accord with the divine will, and where God assured them of his eternal benevolence. This mystery of love is fulfilled in the Passover of the new Covenant, in the gift which the Father makes of his Son for the salvation of all humanity. Let us today renew our acceptance of the divine law as a precious treasure! Like Moses, let us become men and women who intercede before the Lord and pass on to others the law which is a call to true life, which frees us from idols and makes every life infinitely beautiful and infinitely precious! For their part, young people are impatiently waiting for us to help them to discover the face of God, to show them the path to follow, the path of personal encounter with God and the human acts worthy of our divine filiation, a path which is certainly demanding, but a path of liberation which alone will fulfil their desire for happiness. When we are with God on the mountain of prayer, may we allow ourselves to be penetrated by his light, so that our faces will shine with the glory of God and be an invitation to others to live by this divine beatitude, which is the fullness of life!

“Out of Egypt have I called my son.” May everyone hear the call of the God of the Covenant and discover the joy of being his sons and daughters!"

San Juan Pablo II's speech in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt
Cairo, 25 February 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!” (2 Cor 13, 14).

Your Holiness Pope Shenouda, Your Beatitude Patriarch Stephanos,
Distinguished Representative of His Holiness Petros,
Bishops and Dignitaries of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Egypt,

1. With the blessing of St Paul, which leads us directly to the heart of the mystery of Trinitarian communion, I greet all of you with deep affection and in the bonds of love which unite us in the Lord.

It is for me a great joy to be a pilgrim in the country which gave hospitality and protection to our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Family; as it is written in the Gospel of St Matthew: “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt have I called my son'” (Mt 2, 14-15).

Egypt has been home to the Church from the beginning. Founded upon the apostolic preaching and authority of Saint Mark, the Church of Alexandria soon became one of the leading communities in the early Christian world. Venerable bishops like Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril bore witness to faith in the triune God and in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, as defined by the first Ecumenical Councils. It was in the desert of Egypt that monastic life originated, in both its solitary and communal forms, under the spiritual fatherhood of Saint Anthony and Saint Pachomius. Thanks to them and to the great impact of their spiritual writings, monastic life became part of our common heritage. During recent decades that same monastic charism has flourished anew, and it irradiates a vital spiritual message far beyond the borders of Egypt.

2. Today we give thanks to God that we are ever more aware of our common heritage, in faith and in the richness of sacramental life. We also have in common that filial veneration of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, for which the Coptic and all the Eastern Churches are renowned. And “when we speak about a common heritage, we must acknowledge as part of it, not only the institutions, rites, means of salvation and the traditions which all the communities have preserved and by which they have been shaped, but first and foremost this reality of holiness” (Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, 84). For faithfully guarding and preaching this heritage, the Church in Egypt has undergone heavy sacrifices and continues to do so. How many martyrs appear in the venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church, which dates back to the terrible persecutions of the years 283-284! They gave glory to God in Egypt, through their unfaltering witness unto death!

3. From the beginning, this common apostolic tradition and heritage has been transmitted and explained in various forms which take account of the specific cultural character of peoples. As far back as the fifth century however, theological and non-theological factors, combined with a lack of fraternal love and understanding, led to painful divisions in the one Church of Christ. Mistrust and hostility arose between Christians, in contradiction with the fervent desire of our Lord Jesus Christ who prayed “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).

Now, in the course of the twentieth century, the Holy Spirit has brought the Christian Churches and communities closer together in a movement of reconciliation. I recall with gratitude the meeting between Pope Paul VI and His Holiness Pope Shenouda III in 1973, and the Common Christological Declaration which they signed on that occasion. I give thanks for all those who contributed to that important achievement, especially the Pro Oriente Foundation in Vienna and the International Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Please God, this International Joint Commission, and the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church will soon function normally once more, especially in view of certain fundamental ecclesiological questions needing clarification.

4. I repeat what I wrote in my Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, that whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (cf. No. 95). I therefore wish to renew the invitation to all “Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church” (No. 96). With regard to the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, I ask the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek together the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned (cf. Homily, 6 December 1987, 3; Ut Unum Sint, 95). Dear Brothers, there is no time to lose in this regard!

5. Our communion in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in the one Holy Spirit and in one baptism already represents a deep and fundamental reality. This communion enables us to bear common witness to our faith in a whole range of ways, and indeed it demands that we cooperate in bringing the light of Christ to a world in need of salvation. This common witness is all the more important at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium which present enormous challenges to the human family. For this reason too, there is no time to lose!

As a basic condition for this common witness, we must avoid anything which might lead, once again, to distrust and discord. We have agreed to avoid any form of proselytism, or methods and attitudes opposed to the exigencies of Christian love and what should characterize the relationship between Churches (cf. Common Declaration of Pope Paul VI and Pope Shenouda III, 1973). And we recall that true charity, rooted in total fidelity to the one Lord Jesus Christ and in mutual respect for each one's ecclesial traditions and sacramental practices, is an essential element of this search for perfect communion (ibid.).

We do not know each other sufficiently: let us therefore find ways to meet! Let us seek viable forms of spiritual communion, such as joint prayer and fasting, or mutual exchanges and hospitality between monasteries. Let us find forms of practical cooperation, especially in response to the spiritual thirst of so many people today, for the relief of their distress, in the education of the young, in securing humane conditions of life, in promoting mutual respect, justice and peace, and in advancing religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

6. At the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on 18th January, I opened the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls and crossed its threshold together with representatives of many Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Together with me, His Excellency Amba Bishoi of the Coptic Church, and representatives of the Orthodox Church and of the Lutheran Church raised the Book of the Gospels to the four cardinal points. This was a deeply symbolic expression of our common mission in the new millennium: together we have to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the saving message of life, love and hope for the world.

During that same liturgy, the Apostles Creed was proclaimed by three representatives of different Churches and Ecclesial Communities – the first part was proclaimed by the representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria. Afterwards, we offered one another the sign of peace, and for me that joyful moment was a foreshadowing and a foretaste of the full communion which we are striving to achieve among all Christ’s followers. May the Spirit of God soon grant us the complete and visible unity for which we yearn!

7. I entrust this hope to the powerful intercession of the Theotokos, the Archetype of the Church. She is the all pure, all beautiful, all holy creature, able to “be the Church” as no other creature can ever be. Sustained by her maternal presence, we shall have the courage to admit our faults and hesitations, and seek the reconciliation which will enable us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us” (cf. Eph 5:2). Venerable Brothers, may the third Christian millennium be the millennium of our full unity in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."